Weekly Pulse: White House Takes Offensive Against Health Care Repeal

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

This week, House Republicans will hold a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The bill is expected to pass the House, where the GOP holds a majority, but stall in the Democratic-controlled Senate. In the meantime, the symbolic vote is giving both Republicans and Democrats a pretext to publicly rehash their views on the legislation.

At AlterNet, Faiz Shakir and colleagues point out that repealing health care reform would cost the federal government an additional $320 billion over the next decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The authors also note that despite Republican campaign promises to “repeal and replace” the law, their bill contains no replacement plan. Health care reform protects Americans with preexisting conditions from some forms discrimination by insurers. At least half of all Americans under the age of 65 could be construed as having a preexisting condition. No wonder only 1 in 4 Americans support repeal, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released on Monday.

Perhaps that explains, as Paul Waldman reports at TAPPED, why the White House is vigorously defending health care reform. The Obama administration is making full use of the aforementioned statistics from The Department Health and Human Services on the percentage of Americans who have preexisting conditions:

As the House prepares to vote on the “Repeal the Puppy-Strangling Job-Vivisecting O-Commie-Care Act,” or whatever they’re now calling it, the White House and its allies actually seem to have their act together when it comes to fighting this war for public opinion. The latest is an analysis from the Department of Health and Human Services on just how many people have pre-existing conditions, and thus will be protected from denials of health insurance when the Affordable Care Act goes fully into effect in 2014

Republicans are fuming that Democrats are “politicizing” a policy debate by bringing up the uncomfortable fact that, if the GOP’s repeal plan became law, millions of people could lose their health insurance. As Waldman points out, the high incidence of preexisting conditions is an argument for a universal mandate. It’s impossible to insure people with known health problems at an affordable cost unless they share the risk with healthier policy-holders. Hence the need for a mandate.

Anti-choice at the end of life

In The Nation, Ann Neumann explains how anti-choice leaders fought to re-eliminate free end-of-life counseling for seniors under Medicare. The provision was taken out of the health care reform bill but briefly reinstated by Department of Health and Social Services before being rescinded again by HHS amid false allegations by anti-choice groups, including The Family Research Council, that the government was promulgating euthanasia for the elderly.

As seen on TV

The Kansas-based anti-choice group Operation Rescue is lashing out at the Iowa Board of Medicine for dismissing their complaint against Dr. Linda Haskell, Lynda Waddington reports in The Iowa Independent. Dr. Haskell attracted the ire of anti-choicers for using telemedicine to help doctors provide abortion care. The board investigated Operation Rescue’s allegations, which it cannot discuss or even acknowledge, but found no basis for sanctions against Haskell. Iowa medical authorities said they were still deliberating about the rules for telemedicine in general.

Salon retracts RFK vaccine story

Online news magazine Salon.com has retracted a 2005 article by Robert Kennedy, Jr. alleging a link between childhood vaccines and autism, Kristina Chew reports at Care2. The article leaned heavily on now discredited research by Dr. Andrew Wakefield. His research had been discredited for some time, but only recently did an investigative journalist reveal that Wakefield skewed his data as part of an elaborate scam to profit from a lawsuit against vaccine makers.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Giffords Shooting Reveals Flaws in U.S. Mental Health Services

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head at a constituent outreach event in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson on Saturday. In all, the gunman shot 18 people, killing 6, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

Jamelle Bouie of TAPPED urges President Barack Obama to take up the issue of mental health care in his upcoming speech on the mass shooting. Several people who knew the alleged shooter came forward with stories of bizarre behavior and run-ins with campus police at his community college. College administrators ordered him to seek treatment before he returned to school, but he does not appear to have done so.

H. Clarke Romans of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Arizona explained to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! that mental health services in Arizona have been devastated by budget cuts.

In 2008 the state eliminated support services for all non-Medicaid behavioral health patients and stopped covering most brand-name psychiatric drugs. At least 28,000 Arizonans were affected. Arizonans with mental illnesses can expect even more cuts in the future as the state slashes spending in an attempt to address its budget shortfall.

In AlterNet, Adele Stan, argues that, while we don’t yet know the gunman’s motives, the right wing’s intensifying campaign of anti-government hysteria and violent rhetoric may have emboldened an already disturbed person:

Had the vitriolic rhetoric that today shapes Arizona’s political landscape (and, indeed, our national landscape) never come to call, Loughner may have found a different reason to go on a killing spree. But that vitriol does exist as a powerful prompt to the paranoid, and those who publicly deem war on the federal government a patriot’s duty should today be doing some soul-searching.

Reform repeal vote on hold

The House Republicans had scheduled a vote to repeal health care reform this week, but the vote has been postponed in the wake of the Giffords shooting. However, the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce threw its full weight behind the repeal effort on Tuesday, according to Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones. The Chamber is going back on its earlier pledge not to oppose health care reform outright.

CA insurer hikes rates by 59%

Nearly 200,000 policyholders in California are reeling from a 59% rate hike by Blue Shield, Brie Cadman reports for Change.org. According to the company, the increase was not due to health care reform, but rather to “increased utilization.” State insurance officials are reviewing the rate hike, but they can’t reverse it unless they find that Blue Shield fails to meet the legal medical loss ratio (percentage of premiums spent on medical care).

Reproductive rights in the states

Rachel Gould and Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute recap reproductive rights in the states at RH Reality Check. Last year, 44 states and the District of Columbia considered 950 repro rights-related measures on issues ranging from abortion to sex ed. By year’s end, 89 new laws had been enacted in 32 states and DC. Of these, 39 were abortion laws.

The vast majority of new abortion laws served to further restrict women’s access to abortion. The passage of the Affordable Care Act spurred several states to pass laws restricting insurance coverage for abortions. The District of Columbia’s decision to reinstate public funding was one of the few exceptions to the trend of restrictive new laws.

Autism/vaccine study based on “deliberate fraud”

The author of a discredited study purporting to link autism and vaccines schemed to profit from his tainted research from the very beginning, according to new research published in the British Medical Journal.

It turns out that the lead author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, was secretly working on a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers when he published a study in The Lancet that appeared to show a link between vaccines and autism. We now know that Wakefield falsified the findings that sparked a global panic over the safety of childhood vaccines.

The journal retracted the paper last year. Wakefield was stripped of his license to practice medicine.

Some observers think these revelations will finally put the debate over vaccines and autism to rest. Kristina Chew of Care2 is doubtful:

I am very sure that, even with all the facts, data, and evidence laid before them, those who believe that vaccines or something in vaccines caused or somehow ‘contributed’ to their child becoming autistic will stand by their claims, and by Wakefield.  Some of these persons are my friends. They are parents, as am I, of autistic children.

Wakefield’s die hard supporters weren’t swayed by earlier revelations of shoddy research and unethical conduct. It seems unlikely that this new found conflict of interest will change their minds.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: On Health Care Repeal, House GOP Full of Sound and Fury

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

House Republicans will hold a symbolic vote to overturn health care reform on January 12. The bill, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and set the nation’s health care laws back to the way they were last March, has no chance of becoming law. The GOP controls the House, but Democrats control the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the Senate Democrats will block the bill.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones reports that the 2-page House bill carries no price tag. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the ACA would save $143 billion dollars over the next decade. The GOP repeal bill contains no alternative plan. So, repealing the ACA would be tantamount to adding $143 billion to the deficit. So much for fiscal responsibility.

Why are the Republicans rushing to vote on a doomed bill without even bothering to hold hearings, or formulate a counter-proposal for the Congressional Budget Office to score? Kevin Drum of Mother Jones hazards a guess:

[Speaker John] Boehner [(R-OH)] knows two things: (a) he has to schedule a repeal vote because the tea partiers will go into open revolt if he doesn’t, and (b) it’s a dead letter with nothing more than symbolic value. So he’s scheduling a quick vote with no hearings and no CBO scoring just so he can say he’s done it, after which he can move on to other business he actually cares about.

An opportunity?

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly argues that all this political theater around repealing the Affordable Care Act is an opportunity for Democrats to remind the public about all the popular aspects of the bill that the GOP is trying to strip away.

Last weekend several key provisions of the ACA took effect, including help for middle income seniors who are running up against the prescription drug “donut hole.” Until last Saturday, their drugs were covered up to a relatively low threshold, then they were on their own until they spent enough on prescriptions for the catastrophic coverage to kick in again. Those seniors will be reluctant to give up their brand new 50% discount on drugs in the donut hole.

Another crack at turning eggs into persons

A Colorado ballot initiative to bestow full human rights on fertilized ova was resoundingly defeated for the second time in the last midterm elections. Attempts to reclassify fertilized ova as people are an attempt to ban abortion, stem cell research, and some forms of birth control. Patrick Caldwell of the American Independent reports that new egg-as-person campaigns are stirring in other states where activists hope to take advantage of new Republican majorities.

Personhood USA, the group behind the failed Colorado ballot initiatives, claims that there is “action” (of some description) on personhood legislation in 30 states. Caldwell says Florida may be the next battleground. Personhood USA needs 676,000 signatures to get their proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. Right now, they have zero, but they promise a “big push” in 2011.

Ronald McDonald = Joe the Camel

In AlterNet, Kelle Louaillier calls for more regulation of fast food industry advertising to children. New research shows that children are being exposed to significantly more fast food ads than they were just a few years ago. Other studies demonstrate that children give higher marks to food products when they are paired with a cartoon character. Louaillier writes of her organization’s campaign to prevent fast food companies from using cartoons to market fast food to kids:

For our part, my organization launched a campaign in March to convince McDonald’s to retire Ronald McDonald, its iconic advertising character, and the suite of predatory marketing practices of which the clown is at the heart. A study we commissioned by Lake Research Partners found that more than half of those polled say they “favor stopping corporations from using cartoons and other children’s characters to sell harmful products to children.”

Local elected officials are joining the cause, too. Los Angeles recently voted to make permanent a ban on the construction of new fast food restaurants in parts of the city. San Francisco has limited toy giveaway promotions to children’s meals that meet basic health criteria. The idea is spreading to other cities.

2011 trendspotting: Baby food

The hot new snack trend for 2011 is mush, as Bonnie Azab Powell reports in Grist. In an attempt to burnish its portfolio of “healthier” snack options for kids Tropicana (a PepsiCo company) is introducing a new line of pureed fruit and vegetable slurries. The products, sold under the brand name Tropolis, feature ground up fruits and veggies, vitamin C, and fiber in a portable plastic pouch. These “drinkified snacks” or “snackified drinks” will be priced at $2.49 to $3.49 for a four-pack, making them more expensive than fresh fruit.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: End-of-Life Counseling Returns, But Death Panels Still Nonsense

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

A proposed program to cover counseling sessions for seniors on end-of-life care has risen from the ashes of health care reform and found a new life in Medicare regulations, Jason Hancock of the American Independent reports.

In August, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin started a rumor via her Facebook page that the the Obama administration was backing “death panels” that would vote on whether the elderly and infirm had a right to live. In reality, the goal was to have Medicare reimburse doctors for teaching patients how to set up their own advance directives that reflect their wishes on end-of-life care.

Patients can use their advance directives to stipulate their wishes for treatment in the event that they are too sick to make decisions for themselves. They can also use those directives to demand the most aggressive lifesaving interventions.

Waste not, want not

Though end-of-life counseling was ultimately gutted from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the legislation will eventually ensure health coverage for 32 million more Americans. However, Joanne Kenen in The American Prospect argues it will do comparatively less to curb the high costs of health care. The architects of the ACA had an opportunity to include serious cost-containment measures like a robust public health insurance option to compete with private insurers, but they declined to do so.

Kenen argues that the government should more aggressively target waste within the health care delivery system, especially Medicare and Medicaid. Unchecked and rising health care costs through Medicare and Medicaid are a significantly greater driver of the deficit than Social Security or discretionary spending:

“The waste is enormous,” says Harvard health care economist David Cutler. “You can easily convince yourself that there is 40 to 50 percent to be saved.” Squeezing out every single bit of that inefficient or unnecessary care may not be realistic. But it also isn’t necessary; eliminating even a small fraction of the current waste each year over the next decade would make a huge difference, he added. Health care would finally start acting like “a normal industry.” Productivity would grow, in the one area of the economy where it has not, and with productivity gains, prices could be expected to fall.

The new end-of-life counseling program will help reduce waste in the system, not by pressuring people to forgo treatments they want, but by giving them the tools to refuse treatments they don’t want.

Teen births down, but why?

The teen birth rate has dropped again, according to the latest CDC statistics. Births to women under the age of 20 declined by 6% in 2009 compared to 2008. One hypothesis is that the reduction is an unexpected consequence of the recession, an argument we pointed to in last week’s edition of the Pulse. John Tomasic of the Colorado Independent is skeptical of the recession hypothesis. He writes:

Emily Bridges, director of public information services at Advocates for Youth, agrees with other observers in pointing out that teens aren’t likely to include national economics as a significant factor in pondering whether or not to have unprotected sex. Peer pressure, badly mixed booze, general awkwardness, for example, are much more likely than the jobless recovery to play on the minds of horny high schoolers.

Some states with weak economies actually saw a rise in teen birth rates, Tomasic notes. However, this year’s sharp downturn in teen births parallels a drop in fertility for U.S. women of all ages, which seems best explained by economic uncertainty.

It’s true that prospective teen moms are less likely to have jobs in the first place, and so a bad job market might be less likely to sway their decisions. However, young women who aren’t working are unlikely to have significant resources of their own to draw on, which means that they are heavily dependent upon others for support. If their families and partners are already struggling to make ends meet, then the prospect of another mouth to feed may seem even less appealing than usual.

Abortion is the elephant in the room in this discussion. The CDC numbers only count live births. Logically, fewer live births must be the result of fewer conceptions and/or more terminations. Some skeptics doubt that economic factors have much to do with teens’ decisions about contraception. However, it seems plausible that decisions about abortion would be heavily influenced by the economic health of the whole extended family.

Last year’s decrease was notably sharp, but teen birth rates have been declining steadily for the last 20 years. The Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based non-profit that specializes in research on reproductive choice and health, suggests that successive generations of teens are simply getting savvier about contraception. Births to mothers between the ages of 15 and 17 are down 48% from 1991 levels, and births to mothers ages 18 to 19 are down 30%.

Stupid drug dealer tricks

Martha Rosenberg of AlterNet describes 15 classic dirty tricks deployed by Big Pharma to push drugs. These include phony grassroots patient groups organized by the drug companies to lobby for approval of dubious remedies. Another favorite money-making strategy is to overcharge Medicare and Medicaid. Pharmaceutical companies have paid nearly $15 billion in wrongdoing settlements related to Medicare and Medicaid chicanery over the last five years.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Judge Rules Against Health Reform, Takes Cash from Opponents

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Virginia federal judge who ruled against a key component of health care reform on Monday has ties to a Republican consulting firm. Judge Henry Hudson is a co-owner of Campaign Solutions, as Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! reports.

Hudson, a President George W. Bush appointee, has earned as much as $108,000 in royalties from Campaign Solutions since 2003. A cached version of the firm’s client roster lists such vocal opponents of health reform as Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jim DeMint (R-SC), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), the Republican National Committee and the American Medical Association.

In November, Collins and Snowe joined McConnell in signing an amicus brief to challenge the constitutionality of health care reform in a separate suit in Florida. Campaign finance records show that Campaign Solutions has also worked for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is spearheading the lawsuit. Tiahrt added an amicus brief to Cuccinelli’s lawsuit.

Today, the mandate. Tomorrow, the regulatory state?

Hudson ruled that the individual mandate of health care reform is unconstitutional. The mandate stipulates that, after 2014, everyone who doesn’t already have health insurance will have to buy some or pay a small fine. The judge argues that this requirement exceeds the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce.

The Commerce Clause gives the federal government the power to regulate commerce between the states and international trade. Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones explains that this clause underpins the power of the federal government to regulate the economy in any way:

But the issues at stake in Cuccinelli v. Sebelius (Ken Cuccinelli is the conservative attorney general of Virginia; Katherine Sebelius is President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, or HHS) are actually far broader. Hudson’s ruling doesn’t just show how the Supreme Court could gut the health law—it shows how the court could neuter the entire federal government.

Is it constitutional?

Chris Hayes of The Nation interviews Prof. Gillian Metzger, a constitutional law scholar at Columbia University, about the merits of challenges to the constitutionality of health care reform. According to Metzger, “the argument that [the mandate] is outside the commerce power is also pretty specious given the existing precedent.”

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly accuses Judge Hudson of committing an “inexplicable error” in legal reasoning. There is a longstanding precedent that the federal government can regulate economic activity under the Commerce Clause. Hudson acknowledges this, but he maintains that this power doesn’t cover regulations of “economic inactivity” (i.e. not buying health insurance). As Benen notes, people who don’t buy insurance aren’t opting out of the market, they’re opting to let society absorb their future medical costs. Everyone who does buy insurance pays more because freeloaders coast without insurance and hope for the best.

Luckily for the Obama administration, the judge did not bar the implementation of health reform while the case works its way through the courts. The Supreme Court will ultimately hear this case. In the meantime, the federal government can continue building the infrastructure that will eventually support health care reform.

This is the third time a federal judge has ruled on the constitutionality of health care reforms and the first victory for the anti-reform contingent.

Mandatory mandate

Paul Waldman reminds TAPPED readers why the mandate is critical to any health care reform based on private insurance. With a single-payer system, you don’t need a mandate because everyone is automatically covered. A mandate only comes into play when you have to force people to buy insurance.

Without a mandate, healthy risk-takers who don’t buy insurance will starve the system of premiums while they are well and bleed the system for benefits when they get sick. Meanwhile, people who already know they’re sick will sign up in droves, and the Affordable Care Act will force insurers to accept them.  Without a mandate, the private health insurance industry would collapse and take health care reform down with it.

Is expanding Medicare the answer?

Matthew Rothschild of the Progressive argues that the legal headaches over the individual mandate illustrate why it would have been legally and procedurally easier to achieve universal health care by simply expanding Medicare to cover everyone.

At Truthout, Thom Hartmann argues universal health insurance in the form of “Medicare Part E” would spur economic growth and innovation because entrepreneurs could start businesses without worrying about how to provide health insurance for their employees.

Meanwhile, Brie Cadman reports at Change.Org, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is trying to defund health care reform by cutting funds for preventive health care. Coburn is urging his fellow Republicans to vote against a House-passed measure that would allocate $750 million for the 2011 Prevention and Public Health Fund. Cadman notes the irony of a medical doctor like Coburn, who also claims to be a fiscal conservative,  trying to scuttle funds to control preventable diseases which would otherwise cost society billions of dollars a year.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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